Editorial: Keeping up with the world we live in

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Sometimes, events conspire to focus the mind. The happenings of the past month fall into this category. It started when Dell and Apple were forced into an expensive recall of millions of laptop batteries after the evidence that they were liable to cause fires became overwhelming.

In normal times, this would have been largely a concern for the manufacturers, but the news broke at the time when a major security alert at the UK's airports was robustly put into action.

As the police swooped to arrest dozens suspected of an alleged plot to blow up transatlantic airliners, the Government imposed draconian restrictions on hand luggage. Suddenly, any electronic device was seen as a potential threat and the laptop was a prime suspect. The fact that some may also burst into flames heightened the alarm.

The immediate effect was the cancellation of hundreds of flights and extraordinary scenes at Heathrow as travellers were forced to stand in the rain trying to gain entry to the terminal buildings. Although restrictions have now been relaxed, the events of August proved how vulnerable our economic life is to threats and the consequent restrictions placed on travel, even if intended for the safety of all.

The level of danger from the alleged plot was severe and, if it had gone ahead, as the police claim, we would still be reeling from a global atrocity on a scale not seen since 9/11.

We still need to wise up to what might be termed the banality of terror.

Potential terrorists don't need super-smart technology or huge knowledge to attack us or disrupt transportation hubs. As Ken Munro makes clear in this month's Consultant's View (p23), a simple grounding in IP and basic electronics is all that's needed to disable major installations. This is a worry.

Elsewhere, a Government that sees itself in the vanguard of the war on terror may well be scoring an own goal. Amendments to the Computer Misuse Act could make commercial penetration testing illegal. The bill is expected to go before parliament in October. Our feature (p32) is a good place to start acquainting yourself with the issues, so you can find out where your MP stands.

Voice over IP (VoIP) continues to make inroads into both the home and business, and with it comes a whole new raft of security concerns. Dan Kaplan reports from the US on what is being done to ensure that VoIP doesn't fall victim to its security weaknesses before it's had a chance to prove itself (p38).

Microsoft has not always been known for leading from the front or innovating in the truest sense. At its UK subsidiary, the appointment of Ed Gibson as chief security adviser raised a few eyebrows in the industry, as he was not from the traditional, technical background.

But as our interview (p26) shows, there's more to security than technical solutions. Gibson has started to get the message across: unless we start understanding our enemies and their methods; we won't even begin to keep them in check.

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